A recent study found that nearly 40% of the beneficial bacteria found in a baby’s gut comes directly from their mother’s breastmilk and breast skin.
Moms understand the importance of helping their children develop healthy and strong immune systems. Over the last few years there has been increasing awareness as to the importance of gut bacteria on the developing health of infants.
When infants are born, their gastrointestinal tracts are mostly sterile and immature. While some bacteria begin to make themselves at home during pregnancy and the birthing process, the majority of colonization takes place during the first few days and weeks of life. During this time, varying types of bacteria begin to affect the intestinal microbiota of newborns. This colonization process is imperative to the health of a child, as 80% of the immune system resides in the gut.
A new UCLA study published in the May issue of JAMA Pediatrics examined 107 mother-infant pairs from Los Angeles, CA and St. Petersburg, FL. Throughout the first year of life, the researchers collected breastmilk and skin swabs from the mothers, as well as stool samples from the infants. They examined the various bacteria and found that 27.7% of the healthy bacteria that lives in an infant’s gut comes directly from its mother’s breastmilk. Additionally, another 10.4% comes directly from the areola skin.
All of the infants in the study received at least 75% of their daily intake from breastmilk. The study also found that the more babies nursed, the more their gut bacteria matched what was in their mom’s milk. Even after the introduction of solid food, breastfeeding continued to add beneficial bacteria to the infant’s gut.
“Breast milk is this amazing liquid that, through millions of years of evolution, has evolved to make babies healthy, particularly their immune systems,” Dr. Grace Aldrovandi, the study’s senior author said in a press release. “Our research identifies a new mechanism that contributes to building stronger, healthier babies.”
The study, which is the largest to date showing the transfer of bacteria through the milk, strengthens the already abundant evidence as to the importance of breastfeeding. It also suggests that breastmilk, even in small amounts, is beneficial for babies. This may offer some reassurance and hope to moms who have challenges exclusively breastfeeding.
While exclusive breastfeeding offers the highest benefits, any amount of milk and contact with the breast is helpful.